Over the course of 10 weeks, we’re counting down Fran McCaffery’s squads as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Below are links to previous iterations in the series:
Even though the Iowa Hawkeyes were coming off a return to the NCAA Tournament, expectations were muted. Nicholas Baer graduated; Tyler Cook left to play professionally; Isaiah Moss transferred up to the Kansas Jayhawks; Jordan Bohannon telegraphed a medical redshirt to rehabilitate his hip. Who was going to step up?
For as much as 2017 was about Peter Jok or 2016 about Jarrod Uthoff or 2015 about Aaron White, 2020 was the year of Garza. He feasted in the post despite the forest of centers he faced throughout the Big Ten conference schedule.
Around him, the rotation continued to reduce with a season-ending injury to Jack Nunge, the aforementioned Bohannon redshirt, Pat McCaffery sitting out due to lingering issues with his thyroid, and CJ Fredrick being dinged up along the way.
Those who remained stepped up: Joe Wieskamp had a very good first 25 games before slumping to the end of the season; Connor McCaffery was the ultimate glue guy who still feels underrated; CJ Fredrick flashed in his time on the court; Ryan Kriener had a great senior season.
Unfortunately, the season ended before their mettle could get tested so their ranking is resigned to being in the middle. Ugh.
Returning to our preseason primers, it was clear there would be a likability about this team. Jerry nailed it in his optimist post:
[Iowa’s attitude is] enough to make everyone proud as hell at these unselfish, spirited players representing their favorite team and university.
As did Matt C in his pessimistic angle:
I think we’re just in for another middle-of-the road Iowa basketball season where we see a lovable group of young guys trying to figure it out as they go in preparation for some seasons with real potential in a year or two.
What it really came down to was there was an absence of outside expectations for this program. Players needed to step up and nearly everyone, EVERYONE, had outlined Joe Wieskamp as that guy.
From Chad Leistikow’s preseason thoughts:
It may seem crazy to think that the Hawkeyes’ fortunes will rise or crumble depending on a player who averaged 11.1 points a game as a freshman. But that’s the reality — and I do think Wieskamp can absolutely handle the spotlight role.
That left Luka Garza, the tallest Hawkeye, overlooked. In my player preview, I touted his post moves and noted his 1.178 points/possession in those situations. If only I went so far as to predict the 740-point, season-long spectacle he provided.
The Statistical Profile
(all ranks vs. McCaffery teams)
Record: 20-11 (5th), 11-9 (4th)
Offense: AdjO - 117.3 (3rd); 77.7 PPG (5th)
Defense: AdjD - 98.6 (5th); 72.3 PPG (6th)
Iowa improved both sides of the court as the team continued to be more guard-oriented. They snuck inside the top 100 defensively and finished with the #5 offense according to KenPom.
Their in-conference point/possession ticked up as they asserted themselves as the top offense in the Big Ten (1.091). They also slid up from 13th defensively to 12th, at 1.074 points/possession. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Fran’s defense without guards like Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Maybe next year!
From an aesthetic standpoint, the ugly losses from the season prior were largely removed from the game-by-game, though the Purdue Boilermakers remain a thorn in Fran’s side.
They played in genuinely enjoyable basketball games night in, night out. Though they happened in losses, the road games against Penn State and Illinois were among the conference’s best all season. Same goes for the San Diego State and Michigan State games but those losses were more frustrating considering they hung with top 10 teams.
As for wins, they took on their vaunted non-conference schedule with aplomb. Texas Tech wasn’t the team they finished, the Hawks showed what type of team they could be. Road beatdowns of ISU and Syracuse were awesome and they didn’t let Cincinnati get revenge on last season’s tourney win.
Conference season was a whirlwind, as Luka Garza scored 20+ points in every outing, save the game at Nebraska. The stretch at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, affected by winter weather, proved to be the most enjoyable games of the season with wins over Maryland, Michigan & Wisconsin getting Iowa into the thick of the conference.
And yeah, they lost 3 out of 4 to close out the season as Wieskamp sputtered. There’s always next year.
|Jarrod Uthoff||rs jr||113.8||0.253||12.4||6.4||1.7||0.43||0.372||0.737||30.3|
- Luka’s offensive numbers have been discussed plenty of times before. He won KenPom’s player of the year algorithm. Delightful. Yet one totally underdiscussed ability he flashed this year was his ability go play tons and tons and tons of minutes. Just a handful of Big Ten centers played over 30 minutes per game in 25+ contests since 2009-10: Meyers Leonard, Frank Kaminsky, Dererk Pardon, Daniel Oturu, and Luka Garza. He was an absolute horse. Hopefully he doesn’t need to do that again.
- Joe Wieskamp had a tale of two seasons. In the first 24 games, he averaged 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on 45.8% shooting, 38.1% from deep. These numbers had him in the thick of the all-Big Ten race as Iowa was 17-7, 8-5 in the Big Ten. He finished the final seven games with 9.3 points per, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, on 29.7% shooting and 16.7% from three. The minutes took a toll, as did the extended minutes as Iowa’s stretch four.
- CJ Fredrick put together an insanely efficient freshman season.
- Both Ryan Kriener and Bakari Evelyn rounded into form as key players off the bench. It was a huge shame they couldn’t capitalize on their improvements in the postseason.
The Low Point
Though Iowa couldn’t close out the season strong and got their brakes beat off at Purdue, the moment which sticks out to me as the worst all season was the loss to DePaul. Iowa looked slow on defense and overmatched on offense in a 15-point home rout which had everyone afraid of the absolute worst.
Nobody wishes injury on anyone but it’s worth noting how different Iowa became stylistically without Nunge. It opened the door for Kriener to flourish as sixth man and provided a template for the upcoming season for Jack.
Honorable mentions: quick turnaround, shorthanded loss at Nebraska after traveling back from Philadelphia, record-breaking loss at Purdue, loss to Purdue at home, another botched handshake line
The High Point
It’s kind of difficult for me to identify a true high point, as the Hawkeyes’ body of work from an enjoyability perspective felt sky high this season. Part of it was Luka Garza feasting down low on opponents, night in, night out. Even if Iowa didn’t come out on top, at least Luka did Luka things...that’s always fun.
But the win above all is probably the Maryland game. The Terrapins inched ahead at Carver before a 19-2 run gave Iowa an insurmountable lead despite playing a seven-man rotation, almost unthinkable under Fran. It was Wieskamp’s best conference game, as he went 5/9 from three and scored 26 points. The crowd was AWESOME.
The What If
What if they played the postseason?
Iowa had a reasonable path to the Big Ten Championship game and could have advanced to the Sweet 16 behind Luka Garza’s sheer dominance. Either outcome would launch this group as the #1 team of Fran’s tenure.
Since Luka Garza’s arrival in 2017, this team has just gotten better. He was a driving force in advancing Iowa to the second round of last year’s tournament and is a difficult cover for any team. There was requisite shooting around him with Wieskamp and Fredrick as elite shooters and Connor and Kriener trending up behind the arc. If there’s a tournament between each of these iterations, is anyone really betting against them?
Yet they still couldn’t really close on the road in conference. Their defense improved but was too optional, too often. And hey, that’s fine. It makes for an imminently enjoyable game to watch and when they offense is clicking, few can keep up.
However, there was no measuring stick at the end of the season for them. With a strong showing next year, this team is probably ranked higher by assumption of their advancement. Ultimately, we’ll never know.